By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
For as long as I can remember, a day of the Cherokee Indian Fair has been reserved to honor the veterans of the United States military. Service to community and country has always been important to the Tribe and Native America. Native peoples have a proud history of standing in service.
The Fair Veterans’ Day, at least the part that actually involves our veterans, has been, in my opinion, widely misunderstood by the public. Yes, veterans will get into the Fair and festivities without paying admission. Yes, veterans will receive special recognition and gifts that day. Yes, veterans will receive a meal. So, at least for the ceremonies honoring veterans, much of our community does not come and participate in that part of the Veterans’ Day or, we do not participate in the ceremonies and spend our time at the exhibit hall or food booths while those are going on.
The Cherokee Indian Fair is a community event. And, there is no doubt that this community admires, respects, and appreciates our veterans. I think we allow that assumption to cause us to not outwardly show those veterans that we love that appreciation that they so richly deserve. My experience with the veterans’ ceremony on Friday of the Fair is that veterans and their families are in far more attendance than the rest of our community. We, as a community, need to change that.
On Friday, Oct. 5, the gates of the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds will open at 10am, and there will be a special Veterans’ Walk from Unity Field to the Veterans’ Memorial Park. Anyone and everyone may walk with and in honor of the veterans. At 11am, the veterans will be treated to lunch and music from Aunt Bee’s Jam. At 12:30pm, the veterans’ ceremony will begin with the presentation of colors by the Cherokee and Swain County High School ROTC’s, accompanied by the Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143.
Speakers include Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed, Marine Corps veteran; Major General Arnold Fields, United States Marine Corps (Retired); Master Sergeant Leondra Felder, United States Army; and Corporal William Miller, United States Marine Corps. The program includes a Pinning Ceremony for Vietnam War veterans and a presentation by the Quilts of Valor group. Afternoon activities will be a presentation by the Birds of Prey from Chattanooga, Tenn., youth stickball, Aunt Bee’s Jam, and a rifle drill from the Spartanburg Rifle Drill Team. The veterans portion of the day will conclude with the Angel Flight video, a roll call of those tribal members who died in a war, and the sounding of Taps.
Many of community are from a generation that has not known war. The may only know the sacrifice that our veterans have made through history books or a Google search. Men and women who participated in drafts during those times of war or who volunteered for service at a time when it was possible, even likely, that they would have to put their lives on the line to defend the freedom that we now get to take for granted. Those military men and women would many times to stationed in foreign lands far from hearth and home, not knowing when or if they would ever see their families again.
The families suffered as much and sometimes more than warriors. During the World War II, 407,300 men and women of the military died. The most common way for families to be notified that their beloved warrior had been killed was by telegram. The War Department would issue a telegram to the immediate and secondary contacts of a soldier, which would be delivered very similarly to the way the postal service delivers mail today. Another way that the families would be told was by a visit by the Military Police or some other military official. Wives, husbands, mothers, and fathers with loved ones in battle, sat in dread of a knock on the door. Each visitor could be the telegram delivery boy or the MP with the news that their beloved son, daughter had been killed in action.
Men and women who have experience combat are very reluctant to tell their stories of battle. They are traumatized by even the thought of what they experience and refuse to let the horrors of war back into their minds. Many are forever altered psychologically by the things that they have seen, experienced, and what they had to do to survive. Many feel guilty for surviving when so many of their brothers-in-arms did not. Many warriors came home minus their arms and legs. Some lost their sight. Some lost their hearing. And some lost their minds.
The reception that our Vietnam veterans received was quite a bit less than a hero’s welcome. In Ken Moffett’s article “Coming Home: A Study in Contrast,” he states, “Perhaps the cruelest aspect of the war was the treatment of the returning soldiers. Unlike the hero status given to the returning soldiers from World War II, the soldiers that served in Vietnam were portrayed as baby killers, psychos, drug addicts, and warmongers. It was not an uncommon scene for returning soldiers to be confronted at airports by protesters carrying signs with anti-war slogans. The protesters used the signs to attack the soldiers and even threw urine at the veterans. In some instances, soldiers were refused service in restaurants. I remember an incident after I returned home; one of my close friends and I were walking down a street in Oakland, California when a (person) approached us and began yelling insults at us. This common sight on the streets of America during the Vietnam War years was in no way reminiscent of the homecoming given the returning soldiers from previous wars.”
These men and women were warriors who served their country honorably and faithfully, in a similar fashion to the veterans of other wars and conflicts, but because of the politics of the time, they were vilified and traumatized by the very people and country they risked their lives to protect. At every opportunity, we need to reverse the Vietnam veterans’ perception that they are any less heroes in our eyes than other members of the veteran community. Friday, we all will have an opportunity to do so.
We like to say that it “goes without saying” that we love our veterans. That is hogwash. At every opportunity, in every moment that we have with a veteran, we should be finding ways to say and show our gratitude and love for giving up the prime years of their lives in service to the protection of the freedom we enjoy without much thought. Again, Friday is another opportunity to do so. Beginning at 10: 00 am, and throughout the day, you will not have to seek out a veteran to appreciate. They will be here in Cherokee, at or near the Fairgrounds. The ceremony will honor those that made it home alive, those whose bodies made it home, and those who only made it home in spirit. The only question left is “Will you be there for them?”